Social Media Accounts at the National Archives

Tips for Social Media Success

Every year, more than 200 National Archives staff actively contribute to 130 social media accounts on 14 different platforms, reaching hundreds of millions of people (a major feat!) Creating that much consistently engaging content can be a challenge, so it helps to focus on some concrete goals. For NARA, the FY2017-2020 social media strategy defines those goals as telling great stories, deepening engagement, growing our audience, and cultivating an internal social media community of practice.

Tips for Telling Great Stories

  • Have a goal and vision for the kind of conversation you’re hoping to start.

  • Make sure to include a link to NARA or another trusted .gov, .edu, or .org site so that your readers can easily learn more.

  • Include an image to illustrate your message. Pictures are powerful, so make sure the overall mood of the image matches the rest of the post.

  • Talk about the history of the record and back it up with a supporting resource.

  • As a government agency, it’s important to be politically neutral; be friendly, encouraging, and diplomatic. Remember that you’re speaking as an official voice of the National Archives.

  • It’s great to be lighthearted, just make sure it’s appropriate for the context of the records you’re sharing (Presidential vacations? Yes! Memorials to serious events? Nope.)

  • Use proper spelling, grammar, and punctuation. Whenever possible avoid using government-specific jargon or acronyms. While it’s second nature for us to refer to the agency as NARA, it doesn’t mean much to the casual reader.

Tips to Deepen Engagement

  • Tweet about topics you know and love; your passion and expertise will show!

  • Add a personal touch to a post, and talk about interesting discoveries you’ve made; readers often appreciate a human perspective.

  • Social media is a two-way street that gives the agency a human element. Respond when appropriate, but you don’t need to feed the trolls.

  • Not all posts require a response; if you see an opinion, rant, bait, etc, you do not have to reply.

  • Civil discussion, debate, and disagreement are welcome in the comments, and often when there’s a disagreeable commenter, the community corrects them and the conversation gets back on course.

  • NARA’s comment policy is here to help you! If you think a comment clearly violates the policy, or if you believe someone is trolling your social media account, contact the Social Media Team before deleting or blocking anything. When dealing with less-than-positive comments, keep the following in mind:

    • Don’t feed the trolls! In other words, try not to engage. Unless the individual is using language that clearly violates the policy or you’re getting frequent complaints from other users, it’s often best to just ignore.

    • Not all negative commenters are trolls. Many people turn to social media in the hopes of having a problem resolved. If you can help, or know of someone who can, these situations can often become great customer service opportunities.

  • Most platforms allow edits for posts, which is great for a typo or misspelling. If you see a mistake (or are called out by a user!) a quick edit and casual acknowledgment can usually remedy the situation. If you don’t have an option to edit (like on Twitter), just correct yourself in a follow up reply to the post. While it may be tempting, don’t delete your posts! It might seem like a good idea in the moment, but can lead to more complications down the road if users think we aren’t being transparent.

  • Since social media interactions are not face to face, it’s best to avoid sarcasm in our posts (we wouldn’t want someone to interpret it in the wrong way!).

  • Try to resist the temptation to set the record straight when facts are misrepresented. In most cases, the community will self-correct if you give it time.


Tips to Grow Our Audience

  • Focus on quality content: strive to create posts that are relevant, timely, and have a clear call to action.

  • Set goals; determine what it is you want to achieve and where your audience is located online.

  • Listen. Pay attention to the questions and ideas that your followers are sharing. If you see trends, try to tailor some of your content to align with those general interests.

  • Some trends are also controversial topics, so consult with your colleagues to determine if they could lead to hot water.

  • While going viral can be awesome, we don’t want it to come at the expense of undermining the public’s trust in us as neutral stewards. Audience growth should always support NARA’s mission and social media goals.

  • Use relevant industry #hashtags on topics, conferences, and issues to reach your target audience, but first check out how they’re being used elsewhere online.

  • Recognized cultural or research institutions, relevant university departments, and other government agencies are fine to follow / retweet / cross-post / etc. Non-profit, non-partisan organizations with missions similar to the National Archives are a safe bet when it comes to interactions on social media.

  • While we can’t endorse non-government products or events, it’s fine to share updates about programs or events related to the Archives. For instance, if your location is hosting a book talk, feel free to invite your followers and let them know that the author will be signing copies afterwards. If you’re ever uncertain about where the line is, just email the Social Media Team.

Join Our Community of Practice

  • Use the Social Media and Digital Public Engagement ICN page to share ideas, ask questions, and connect with other social media account owners

  • Join the agency wide bi-weekly social media meetings to share ideas and learn new skills. Meetings are co-hosted by Office of Innovation’s Social Media Team, Communications, and the Office of Presidential Libraries and open to any staff interested in social media at NARA. Check the ICN group for current dates, times, and call-in numbers or to review notes from past meetings.

  • Get to know your environment. Following accounts run by other NARA offices and cultural institutions is a great way to become familiar with tone.

  • Have a second set of eyes. If a post feels like it touches a hot topic, have a second person review it—text, hashtag, and image together—before posting.

  • NARA’s Social Media Team (located at Archives II in the Office of Innovation), can help you:

    • Set up new social media accounts (fill out a project proposal form and email it to

    • Work with general counsel to negotiate and amend a Terms of Service Agreement with a new platform you want to join (browse NARA’s signed TOS list)

    • Determine comment policy violations

    • Troubleshoot technical problems

    • Brainstorm ideas for campaigns, a use case for a tool, or general social media ideas

    • Support Twitter chats, Instameets, and other campaigns (big or small!)

    • Contact platforms, like Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, etc.

    • Connect with other staff for collaboration on a project

  • NARA’s Communications Team (located at Archives I in the Office of Public and Media Communications) manages the main @USNatArchives accounts on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, and can help:

    • Help review posts that may touch on a hot topic and need a second set of eyes

    • Amplify your post/message with a boost from NARA’s main accounts

    • Connect you to agency-wide campaigns on social media

    • Answer a press inquiry or respond to a reporter who may contact you through your social media account (email

What Shouldn’t I Say?

  • Since social media content can cover an array of topics, sometimes it’s helpful to know what type of content is off limits.

  • If you think your post might be in one of these categories, hold off from posting:

    • solicits the public for donations to non-NARA causes (donations to the National Archives Trust Fund, and our support organizations including the National Archives Foundation and library foundations are okay)

    • partisan or politically biased

    • violates the Hatch Act

    • endorses or denigrates a religion

    • denigrates a particular demographic group

    • contains personal attacks

    • abusive, threatening, unlawful, harassing, discriminatory, libelous, obscene, false, or pornographic

    • infringes on the privacy or rights of any person

    • violates any other NARA policy or federal law

    • contains content that is privileged, confidential, private, sensitive, non-public, pre-decisional, (including financial information) or in violation of any rights, such as copyrights.

  • If you’re ever unsure if your post could fall into one of these categories, just send it to the Social Media Team before posting.